Over the Christmas holidays I began research for my university dissertation; I’m still not sure what the final subject matter will be defined as, but the areas which I have been researching are mainly that of girls’ comics (their history and role in society mainly), comics in education (both the reading and making of) and sex education comics for girls. These three areas are all fairly connected and in many ways inform each other.
I felt that it was important to research and think about girls’ comics based on my own personal reading experiences. When I arrived at university to begin the course on illustration for graphic novels, I met- for really the first time in my life- other girls who read large quantities of comics for pleasure. Before this the only way for me to be able to discuss comics was to push them into the hands of my friends- who gladly read them but rarely went in search of comics again- or to go online and talk in forums.
The main difference I saw between their experiences and mine was the age that they got into comics. I only became interested in comics at around 14 when I began reading the web comics on gurl.com (more about that site later) and Penny and Aggie (which is still running and I still read). From there I began to buy manga titles from WHSmith and Waterstones- pretty much at random without any prior knowledge of which writers were good or how long a series could last for.
But then I started to think further back and realised that comics had been part of my life when I was a child. Between the ages of 8 and 9 I loved Disney Princess magazine. I absolutely treasured the damn thing. I spent hours and hours of my time reading the picture stories (ok, so maybe they weren’t exactly every-man’s definition of comics, but they were sequential art with captions). As well as completing the puzzles, carefully colouring the pictures, doing the arts and crafts activities. And when- and only when- an issue became three issues out of date I dedicated many more hours to snipping out the pictures of my favourite characters or features and then pritt sticking them onto printer paper to make my own magazines.
From what I remember, the picture stories in Disney Princess were good because not all of the princesses were really strong heroines in their movie stories. Princess Aura from Sleeping Beauty, for example finally got to have a life she was in control of because we saw her living with the good fairies as a peasant. Not that they really went on many whirlwind adventures, I can clearly remember a Little Mermaid story where Ariel and her sisters had a fashion show in a ship wreck. My point is, they weren’t the tales of being married to Prince Charming, they were stories about friendships and family.
I bought other magazines sometimes too, Barbie, which I never really enjoyed, although it did have photo comics starring the dolls they were very very VERY dull and too easy for me to read. Disney’s Princess stories were a bit too easy for me too, but the artwork meant I never really minded.
My little brother sometimes got the Beano, but being about 6 he found that it was too hard to read alone, so it usually fell into my custody once he’d made off with the free gift. The Beano annoyed me. I hated the artwork, I don’t feel as strongly about it now, but at 9 I couldn’t understand why the Bash Street Kids were so ugly. I also couldn’t understand why Minnie the Minx got so many fewer adventures than Dennis, or why it was ok to basically bully Walter. I didn’t think it was funny either.
As I became an increasingly avid reader of “real books” comics became forgotten; Swallows and Amazons, Narnia and Harry Potter took their place. That doesn’t exactly make me sad, I loved those books and took more away from them than I did from tales of balls and dresses; but I think it’s a great shame that there were no comics in the paper shop for 11 or 12 year old me to read.